Skateboard decks are made from a variety of materials. The most common material is Hard Maple. While decks can be made from other woods and a combination of woods and fibre reinforcement, Hard Maple has been tried tested and trued for decades. But if you have requirements that Maple cannot meet, there are a plethora of options for you to choose from.
Let’s have a look at different skateboard deck constructions and what the benefits are of each material.
Skateboard Deck Wood Types
Quality skateboard decks are made from 3 wood types: Hard Maple, Birch and Bamboo. Generally, hard maple is used for the smaller, popsicle shaped skateboards used for tricks, while Birch and Bamboo are more often used for long and cruiser skateboards. Lets dive further in depth into these different varieties of wood used to make skateboard decks.
Canadian hard maple wood, also called rock maple or sugar maple, come from magical trees that grow around the Great Lakes area in North America. Not only are these trees used to make skateboards, but the wood is also used for basketball courts, bowling alleys, furniture, etc. Most importantly, the mystical elixir Maple Syrup also comes from Canadian hard maple trees.
Hard maple wood is a very dense and strong wood. The strength of maple comes from the cold winter environment of the Great Lakes region. The winters are long and cold so the trees grow slowly, forming thinner and tighter growth rings. These tight growth rings give the wood its high density.
Maple skateboard decks are made up of layers of veneers. Veneers are thin cross cuts of from the tree, usually 1/8″ thick. These veneers are stacked and glued together to make the decks. Years of deck building have found that the best way to stack veneers is to stack: Top Face, Core, Cross Cut, Core, Cross Cut, Core, Bottom Face. The top and bottom Face veneers shouldn’t have knots. The core and cross cuts may have knots that are removed and filled before assembly.
A Maple skateboard deck is a durable board that resists cracking and chipping. Maple decks have a very stiff flex compared to birch and bamboo. Maple boards have a great balance between stiffness and flex which gives a board “Pop”. The stiffness balanced with the flexibility allows the board to rebound against the forces placed upon the deck, like when you pop the tail on the ground for an ollie.
The hardness and density of maple also make it resilient to scratching, abrasion, and chipping. It also can handle impact well which is yet another reason that maple makes for excellent skateboard deck material. Of course with regular use your maple skateboard will get scratched and develop razor tail. If your board doesn’t eventually get beat up and need replacing, you might not be trying hard enough. 😉
Pros of Maple
- The best balance of stiffness and flex.
- Extremely durable.
- Resists abrasion and breakage.
Cons of Maple
- Heavier weight.
- More expensive.
Birch is a beautiful and extremely useful tree. It is a good wood to burn in your fire place on cold nights due to its high BTU production. The papery bark makes an excellent fire starter. Oh, and its a good wood to make skateboard decks from!
Birch wood is a dense and strong hardwood, but its density is not as high as that of hard maple. Because of its lower density, a birch skateboard deck will not be quite as strong as a maple deck and will have more flex. Birch still has many desirable qualities that make for an excellent skateboard.
Birch is also a cheaper wood than maple. Because of its lower cost, birch wood decks are more often a lower price point deck intended for beginner skaters. You will want to stick with a hard maple deck if you are an advanced skateboarder doing advanced maneuvers. Birch decks will do you just fine otherwise.
Birch wood decks are made in many ways, but the two most common are with stacked, solid veneers (the same as a maple deck) or with birch plywood known as Baltic Birch. Baltic birch is a birch plywood.
The Baltic Birch tree is a slightly softer version of birch wood than the Canadian birch used to make solid veneers. So, the baltic birch is cut to thinner veneers of 1/32″ to 1/16″ and glued in layers to make 1/8″ plywood. These thin sheets of plywood are then stacked and glued to make skateboard decks.
Because Baltic Birch plywood is 1/8″ thick, the sheets are usually stacked 3 high. This makes a less durable deck than using solid Birch veneers because there is less glue per veneer to hold everything together. But, Baltic Birch is still a reasonable substitute for solid birch because it is cost effective and more readily available than solid veneers.
Birch decks have a lower rebound from flex than maple resulting is a dampened feel. A beginner skater will not likely notice the difference, but an advanced skater could feel a less snappy pop to their tricks. The added flex will give a bit more cushion to landing tricks as well, but will be less durable overall.
Pros of Birch
Cons of Birch
- Has a damp flex which lacks “Pop”.
- Lower impact and crack resistance.
- Prone to chipping and splintering.
Bamboo is an incredible plant used in a massive variety of applications from flooring to structural buildings to furniture to even skateboard decks. Unlike Maple or Birch, Bamboo is not a tree but a grass. Like all grass, Bamboo grows incredibly fast which makes it a very eco-friendly and sustainable material to make things from.
Bamboo is a popular choice for longboard and cruiser decks, and are also used for trick skateboard decks. Decks made from Bamboo are flexible with a high rebound, but are also very durable with a high impact absorbency. They are very responsive and comfortable decks for cruising and carving.
Because the Bamboo plant grows to a much narrower diameter than Maple or Birch trees, Bamboo veneers are not able to be cut in a single piece wide enough to make a skateboard deck. A sheet of Bamboo veneer is actually several thin pieces of bamboo veneer glued together to fill the width. Bamboo is also not able to be cross cut like Maple and Birch veneers can.
If you were to make a skateboard strictly out of bamboo veneers, it would split quickly because the grain would all be running the same direction. Because Bamboo cannot be cross cut, fibreglass or maple cross grain veneer is added between the Bamboo veneers to increase the torsional strength and make a board that is structurally sound.
With Bamboo’s natural rebound and rigidity it can be harder to bend into certain shapes. You may have some difficulty finding Drop Down and Double Drop Longboard decks made from Bamboo.
Bamboo is typically grown and harvested in tropical climates of Asia and South America. Because it needs to be shipped so far for manufacturing, the costs of a bamboo deck can be higher than Maple or Birch. The additional work required to make the deck and mixed materials needed can also add to the cost.
Pros of Bamboo
Cons of Bamboo
- Must be combined with other materials.
- Difficult to bend to shape.
Aside from wood, skateboard decks can be made of other materials as well. These other materials can be used by themselves to make decks, but are most often combined with wood materials to produce lighter and stronger skateboard decks a desired stiffness and resilience. Lets have a look at some of the other materials that can make up a skateboard deck.
Fiberglass and Carbon fibre are extremely light and strong materials that can be used to make virtually unbreakable objects. They are both easily shaped and formed into almost any shape imaginable. Both Fibreglass and Carbon fibre can be made as dense and as thick as the manufacture wants and they can be stronger than steel. They are waterproof and extremely weather resistant. If properly taken care of, fibre reinforcements can last for an insanely long time.
Fibre reinforced decks are an excellent selection for larger skaters and skaters that are prone to breaking skateboards. If you are 200+ lbs and or doing large drops, a skateboard deck with fibreglass or carbon fibre inserts could get help you get longer life out of your skateboard decks.
This extra resilience, strength, and durability come at a cost. Fibre reinforcement also requires resin or epoxy adhesive for them to adhere to materials they are going to be used with. This is also not cheap. If you want a skateboard with fibre reinforcement expect to pay significantly more for it. The added cost may balance out because the board should last longer than a standard 7 ply wooden board.
The Powell Peralta Flight Deck and the Santa Cruz VX are two popular fibre reinforced decks. While their exact formulas are kept secret by their respective companies, their basic construction is the same: They are made of 5 ply maple with carbon fibre on the top and bottom layers. The result is a lighter board that is more flexible and responsive with a pop that won’t die. And you can drive a car over them without distorting or damaging the deck.
The Flight Deck and VX are to last 10 times longer than a 7 Ply maple construction and the myriad of tests you can find on the internet show that they are indeed stronger and will last significantly longer than traditional 7 Ply decks.
You can’t make a skateboard with out adhesive. Wooden skateboard decks are built with quality wood adhesive. Plybond III, Multibond SK8 Adhesive and Tightbond III are commonly glues used because they create an excellent bond and are waterproof so the deck shouldn’t delaminate if exposed to elements. They are also water based which makes them safer to use than Epoxy adhesives.
Epoxy is used as an adhesive in conjunction with materials other than wood. When combining fibre reinforcement with wood construction, wood glue will just not cut the mustard. Fibre reinforcements require the use of Epoxy as an adhesive. The maple used in the Powell Peralta Flight Deck and Santa Cruz VX are infused with epoxy which is what makes them more durable and helps to keep the stiffness.
Lithe Skateboards has taken the epoxy resin game up a notch further. Not only is the bottom layer of their fibre reinforced decks covered in epoxy to make for fast smooth slides, but they have added a polymer coating around the edge of the entire board to prevent razor tail and cracking and chipping. The polymer edge also keeps the pop nice and fresh.
That concludes this post but you also might be interested in how skateboard decks are made.